DAMASCUS – Despite the global financial crisis, Syria saw a 23 percent increase of Arab and European tourists in July compared to the same month last year, showed the latest official statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism.

According to the statistics, Bahrain accounted for 55 percent of the tourists, followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Tourism in Syria has recorded strong growth in recent years. Minister of Tourism Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa told a Brazilian commercial delegation last month that visitors to Syria increased by 9 percent in the first half this year even amidst the international financial crisis, compared to the same period last year.

According to the minister, tourism has accounted for 11 percent of Syria’s gross domestic product (GDP) in recent years and Syria is now receiving 5.4 million visitors per year on average.

So far, Syria has tended to attract visitors from other parts of the Middle East, but promotion campaigns by the state and tour operators last year have targeted Asian and European tourists.

One important partner with Syria in the sector is Turkey, and relations between the two countries have grown significantly in recent years.

Turkey and Syria have signed deals to foster bilateral tourism and jointly promote the two countries as tourist destinations abroad, which means Turkish and Syrian operators could sell packages including both countries.